Will Locante turning heads in D-backs’ spring

Spring training is in full swing for our parent club Arizona Diamondbacks, and there are friendly Hop faces abound at Salt River Fields in Scottsdale, Arizona. Three of our former friends are in camp with the big club: starting pitchers Braden Shipley and Aaron Blair, and relief pitcher Will Locante. All three project to be future big leaguers, and will certainly draw some attention as the spring progresses.

Locante is an interesting case. A few months back, we posted two separate features on relief pitcher Jimmie Sherfy and the aforementioned Blair as the two former Hops most likely to crack the big club first. Locante is a left-handed reliever who was a Northwest League All-Star in 2013 and Midwest League All-Star in 2014. His rise saw him added to the Diamondbacks’ 40-man roster in November of 2014, and also cemented him as a serious competitor in the race for the first Hop to reach the big leagues.

An addition to the 40-man roster is no small accomplishment. Being a part of the 40-man means the player is protected from being selected by another big league team in the Rule 5 Draft. It is essentially a large vote of confidence in the prospect and an indication that the Diamondbacks have long-term plans for Locante. Here’s a tweet from Nick Piecoro, the Diamondbacks’ beat writer for AZcentral Sports.

The southpaw features nasty stuff. He comes at hitters from sort of a ¾ arm slot with a fastball that sits in the mid-to-high 90’s. He also has a sharp slider that works as a fantastic put-away pitch. Locante can pitch to both lefties and righties, but is particularly effective against lefties.

His biggest flaw historically has been command, but he has made significant strides in shoring it up. After walking 31 batters in 42 innings in 2013, he rebounded in 2014 to issue just 23 free passes in 53 innings. His walk rate is still above the ideal number, but it is certainly trending in the right direction.

Hillsboro Hops vs Boise Hawks

Locante is an extremely athletic left handed pitcher with a live arm and quirky delivery. Might he be the first former Hop to reach Phoenix? (Hillsboro Hops/Craig Mitchelldyer)

Locante has never pitched above Long-A ball in his career, but his rapid progression and improving command has moved him onto the fast-track to the big leagues. Diamondbacks’ MLB.com reporter Steve Gilbert commented recently on the March 3rd edition of the Diamondbacks official podcast that Locante has a legitimate chance to make the big club out of spring. (16:10 on the 3/3 edition)

Locante is presently engaged in a spring-training competition with MLB-veteran left-handers Oliver Perez and the recovering Matt Reynolds. Major league teams typically like to carry a few left-handed bullpen arms, and especially prefer those who can get both left and right-handed batters out. As Reynolds continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, Locante may have an opportunity to crack the big club.

Locante has only made one appearance in spring training with the Diamondbacks so far, pitching a scoreless inning in a scrimmage against the Arizona State Sun Devils on March 3rd. Locante will have no shortage of opportunities to prove himself as the season nears, and if he continues to show improved command and swing-and-miss stuff, he may find himself on a major-league mound come April.

What do you think Hops fans? Will we see Locante on the big club this year? Or will Blair, Sherfy, or someone else, ahem, Braden Shipley, beat him there? Be on the lookout for a feature on Shipley coming soon.

109 days until Opening Day.

Luis Gonzalez on Portland Talk Radio

Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet guest and 5-time MLB All-Star Luis Gonzalez joined The Bald Faced Truth with John Canzano on 750 AM to talk about the upcoming Hops Fund Banquet, his own baseball career, and life after baseball. If you want to hear more from Luis, we’d love to have you join us at the banquet. The event will take place on Saturday, March 7 at 5:30 PM at NW Events & Environments in Hillsboro. You can get your tickets at http://www.hillsborohops.com/banquet, or you can call into the office any time at (503) 640-0887, and we’d be happy to assist you. Gonzalez will be joined by former All-Star closer J.J. Putz at the banquet. Hope to see you there!

Gonzalez also joined Brian Wheeler on 620 AM Rip City Radio last Friday to talk about the Hops banquet.

Hops’ Silent Auction Update!

We are just fifteen days from the 2nd Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet, which will be held on Saturday, March 7, starting at 5:30 PM at Northwest Events & Environments in Hillsboro. Here’s a look at another item that will be available at our silent auction, courtesy of our friends at TaylorMade Golf.

They have graciously donated an R15 driver, 3-wood and 5-wood, and a set of RSi2 irons. With the weather starting to turn, it sure would be nice to have these clubs in the bag.DSC_2613

They have also donated 12 dozen golf balls stamped with our Hillsboro Hops logo! A huge thank you to TaylorMade Golf for their contributions to our banquet, and for the youth of Washington County. It is much appreciated, and is going towards a fantastic cause.

Tickets are on sale now for the banquet at http://www.hillsborohops.com/banquet. You can also call in any time at (503) 640-0887 and we’d be happy to help you over the phone. Former big-league All-Stars Luis Gonzalez and J.J. Putz will be there to provide the entertainment for the evening.

Hope to see you there!

Four months and four days

Here we sit on February 19, four months and four days from opening day. There is some good news: we are due to spring ahead, which reduces our wait time for the season opener by one hour. Instead of waiting 7440 hours, it’s really only 7439, which is downright doable. If the dog days of summer consist of the slog through July and August, surely the offseason must have a comparable colloquialism. Cat days?

Rest assured Hops Nation, the extended offseason does nothing to deter the ever-working hands of Hops staff members. A championship campaign in Hillsboro provides no time for laurel-resting, and thus, we have striven to make 2015 just as memorable as 2014.

Our players have done the same. Here’s a glimpse of how the offseason has been for a few of last year’s Hops, courtesy of their personal Twitter pages.

Grant Heyman (@grantheyman23) uses the cage to escape the cold New York winters.

Elvin Soto (@ElvinSoto04) celebrated his birthday in the Dominican Republic. Besides being a talented backstop, Elvin is bilingual and capable of communicating wonderfully with our Spanish-speaking farmhands, a must in the relationship between pitchers and catchers.

Steve Nyisztor (@NyisztorSteve) ran into a wallet-bandit, but managed to have the last laugh. Keep smiling, Steve!

Stryker Trahan (@strykert25) spends his time on the baseball field in a crouch, but got down on one knee a while back. Now the fun part begins. Here’s what his bride-to-be had to say:

It’s easy to forget that the guys on the field are just that: guys. They’re human beings who travel, get their wallets stolen, and watch TV. Last year we were lucky enough to have championship-caliber players on the field, and good men off the field.

On the day pitchers and catchers report for spring training, we’d like to wish good luck to all of our former Hops as they embark on another baseball season.

124 days until Opening Day.

Hops’ auction has something for everyone

It’s mid-February, pitchers and catchers are getting ready to report for spring training, and the 2015 Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet is fast approaching. The banquet will be held at 5:30 PM on Saturday, March 7 at Northwest Events & Environments in Hillsboro.

The banquet will feature a silent auction with some fantastic items that are sure to excite.

Looking for a cool keepsake for you and your child? Craig Mitchelldyer, official photographer of the Hillsboro Hops, Portland Trailblazers, and Portland Timbers will come to your child’s sporting event to take professional photos of his or her team and allow free digital downloads. Ever wonder what it’s like to be a professional ballplayer? Bid on the chance to be a Hop for a day, where you will dress in a Hops uniform, hang out with the players for the day, and attend batting practice with the team.

Hops Bar Stools (1)

Add some Hops flavor to your home!

Something for the game room? Two Hillsboro Hops barstools handcrafted with bats used in the 2014 championship season are sure to spice up any basement. What about a private, one-on-one hitting lesson with former big-leaguer and Hillsboro coach and native Ben Petrick?

This is just a small sampling of the one-of-a-kind items that will be available at the silent auction. A lot of the items available at the auction are truly unique experiences that you can only find at the Hillsboro Hops Fund banquet. Remember: all the money raised goes directly into the growth of the game we all love.

Be sure to look out on our social media accounts (@HillsboroHops and http://www.facebook.com/hillsborohops) in the upcoming weeks to see more items that can be yours for the taking. We appreciate all the donations we’ve received thus far from our friends in the community, and we’re excited for you to see them.

Banquet tickets are on sale now at www.hillsborohops.com/banquet. You can also call our office at (503) 640-0887 and a Hops team member would be happy to help you. Tickets are $75 apiece, and table sponsorships are on sale now for $750. Former big league All-Stars Luis Gonzalez and J.J. Putz will be there to provide the entertainment for the evening.

The annual banquet benefits the Hillsboro Hops Fund, an initiative that works to re-instill a love of baseball within the youth of our community. All of the money raised will go towards providing local children with equipment and facilities to play baseball.

If you have any questions, please let us know. We’re always happy to help.

131 days until Opening Day.

J.J. Putz and Luis Gonzalez to attend Hops Fund Banquet

You’ve surely heard the news by now: former big leaguers J.J. Putz and Luis Gonzalez will be the two special guests at the 2nd Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet. The banquet is being held on Saturday, March 7 at 5:30 PM at Northwest Events & Environments in Hillsboro. We’re honored to be hosting them and thankful that our parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, helped make this possible.

J.J. Putz enjoyed a twelve-year career in the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners, New York Mets, Chicago White Sox, and Arizona Diamondbacks. He recorded 189 saves over the course of his career, including 45 in 2011, his first year with the Diamondbacks. Putz was known for his devastating splitter that he would frequently use with two strikes to put batters away. He was an All-Star in 2007 with the Seattle Mariners.

Following his baseball career, Putz transitioned into a front-office role with the Diamondbacks as a special assistant to the President and CEO Derrick Hall. He will work with season ticket holders in a business role in the desert, as well as work with pitchers in spring training, and should be a very valuable addition to the Diamondbacks front office. Below is a video of Putz in action, and you may just hear the voice of our old friend Mark Grace in the broadcast booth.

Luis Gonzalez played in the big leagues for nineteen seasons with the Houston Astros, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Florida Marlins. Gonzalez is perhaps most known for his walk-off hit in the bottom of the 9th inning in Game 7 of the 2001 World Series against the New York Yankees. His bloop single into shallow left drove home the winning run in the Diamondbacks’ only World Series title. His number 20 was the first retired by the team.

Gonzalez finished his career with 2,591 career hits, 354 career home runs, 1,439 runs driven in, and 5 All-Star appearances. After his playing career, he joined the Diamondbacks front office as a special assistant to Derrick Hall. He is a veritable jack-of-all-trades with the team, serving as an occasional color commentator for the Diamondbacks, working with season-ticket holders and clients in Phoenix, as well as assisting in player development.

Gonzalez and Putz will participate in a question-and-answer session to provide the entertainment for the evening. Banquet attendees will have the opportunity to submit questions for the question-and-answer segment.

The Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet is a philanthropic initiative established by Hops’ majority owners Mike and Laura McMurray to raise money for the youth of Washington County to participate in youth baseball. All funds raised for the banquet go directly towards re-instilling a love of baseball within children in the Pacific Northwest. If you’d like to attend the banquet, tickets are on sale now at http://www.hillsborohops.com/banquet. You can also call the office at (503) 640-0887, and a Hops staff member would be happy to assist you.

A most sincere thank you to Luis, J.J., and the Arizona Diamondbacks for joining us to help with our efforts to raise money for youth baseball participation in Washington County. The banquet should be a wonderful evening for a wonderful cause. We look forward to seeing you there.

Hops to host annual fundraising banquet in March

On March 7, the Hillsboro Hops will be hosting our 2nd Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet at Northwest Events and Environments in Hillsboro. The fund was established by Hops’ majority owners Mike and Laura McMurray when they moved the team to Hillsboro to support education and activities for underprivileged youth in the community.

The fund is a philanthropic initiative whose projects intend to re-instill a love of baseball in the youth of Washington County. The fund is the passion of Mike and Laura, who go above and beyond in their involvement in the Hillsboro community.

According to a recent study, the rate of youth participation in baseball has dropped consistently over the last five years. Much of this decline can be attributed to the rising cost of baseball equipment, enormous fees for travel club teams, and a waning interest in America’s pastime.

The Hops will use funds raised at the March 7 banquet to donate equipment to teams and kids whose families may not have the financial means to provide equipment themselves. Some of the funds raised will go to covering fees for youth baseball teams to compete in tournaments. Other funds will go towards initiatives to spark a love of baseball within the youth of our community, including the refurbishment of youth baseball fields, that sometimes fall on hard times given the inclement weather of the Pacific Northwest.

Replica Ring Graphic2

One lucky person will head home with a personalized Hops’ championship ring.

The Hops Fund Banquet will begin at 5:30 PM with a cocktail hour and silent auction. We’ve got some very cool, unique Hops items up for grabs this year, including a pair of handcrafted Hillsboro Hops barstools made with bats from the 2014 season, your very own custom 2014 Northwest League Championship Ring, and even a trip on the team bus to a road game during the 2015 season. Remember: all the money raised bidding on these items will directly benefit participation in youth baseball, and the growth of our game among future Hops in Washington County. So bid high, and bid often!

The banquet will also feature dinner and entertainment from two special guests. The guest speakers will be announced on February 4th, but rest assured that these are two baseball lifers you don’t want to miss. (Hint: six all-star appearances and 31 years in the big leagues between the two.)

If you’re interested in attending the 2nd Annual Hillsboro Hops Fund Banquet, tickets are available now at www.hillsborohops.com/banquet. You may also call into our office anytime at (503) 640-0887, and someone can assist you over the phone. Tickets are $75 dollars apiece, or you or your business can sponsor a table for $750. If you would like to contribute to the banquet but cannot make the event, you can also donate online at the same site listed above.

As a Hops staff, and as a Hops fan base, we hold the game of baseball near and dear to our hearts. We must also realize that while we do love this game, it is not cheap, and tons of children in our community lack the financial means to play baseball. It is our responsibility to ensure the revitalization and growth of our wonderful game in the Hops’ backyard. This banquet is a small step towards that goal.

Hope to see you in March.

J.R. House promoted to Visalia

It is often said that the only constant in life is change. If one thing could epitomize this age-old adage, it’s minor league baseball. Yes, the Hop Stove is at times philosophical.

The turnover year-to-year is truly remarkable. Every year, we have new players, new faces, new stories, new villains, and new heroes. In some cases, we have turnover for good reasons, in the form of promotions. Other times, it is for not-so-good reasons, as some players face the reality of demotions or releases. We always want our favorite players to succeed. It is ultimately a business, and in a game as sentimental as baseball, as fans, it is eternally difficult to separate emotion from evaluation.

But this post is one to smile about: former Hillsboro Hops manager J.R. House has been promoted and named the manager of the Advanced-A Visalia Rawhide of the California League. Advanced-A is littered with future major-league talent, and our former skipper will play an integral role in molding future Arizona Diamondback stars.

JR House

J.R. House is off to manage the Visalia Rawhide. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

This promotion for House is the latest in what has been a meteoric rise for this coaching prospect. He got his first coaching gig in 2012 as the hitting coach of the Pioneer League Missoula Osprey where they won a championship, before jumping to Hillsboro in 2013 to fill the same role here. In 2014, he took the helm as manager of the Hillsboro Hops, and led the team to the best record across all of Short-Season baseball, and a Northwest League Championship. If you’re counting, that’s two rings in three years in the dugout.

House undoubtedly will take a lot of lessons from his time in Hillsboro to Visalia. He had the luxury of working with Mark Grace and Doug Drabek in Hillsboro, who both have tremendous baseball experience and helped him along the way.

House has proven himself to be an effective motivator and communicator with his baseball teams. Just like pitchers and hitters are constantly evaluated as prospects in the minor leagues, so too are coaches. His rise through the system can be likened to pitcher Jimmie Sherfy leapfrogging his way through the minors. House’s next challenge is with the Visalia Rawhide, who open the season April 9th against the Stockton Ports. It will be an adjustment for J.R. as he moves from short-season baseball into a full-season schedule.

Here in Hillsboro, we support all of our fellow Diamondback affiliates, but we’ll be keeping another eye on our friend in Visalia. We wish J.R. and the Rawhide continued success next year and into the future. Congratulations on your promotion Housey, and good luck. Thanks for the ring.

#RollHide

Hillsboro Hops’ GM K.L. Wombacher honored by Portland Business Journal

Hillsboro Hops Executive Vice President and General Manager K.L. Wombacher has been named to the Portland Business Journal’s “Forty Under 40″ list.

The award is given to professionals less than forty years of age who have demonstrated outstanding leadership and a commitment to the Portland community. This is a tremendous honor for the man who leads our staff.

K.L. joined the organization in 2001 when they were still the Yakima Bears, and was instrumental in moving the franchise to Hillsboro. He has been twice named the Northwest League Executive of the Year in 2008 and 2013. In 2014, K.L. celebrated his first-ever Northwest League Championship when the Hops defeated the Vancouver Canadians.

A hearty congratulations to K.L. from his staff and all of Hops Nation. 

Hops' GM K.L. Wombacher with manager J.R. House and hitting coach Mark Grace.

Hops’ GM K.L. Wombacher with manager J.R. House and hitting coach Mark Grace. (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

On streaks and repeats…

Will 2015 be more the same?  (Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Will 2015 be more of the same?
(Craig Mitchelldyer/Hillsboro Hops)

Unless you spent 2014 living under a rock, you may be aware that your Hillsboro Hops are the reigning Northwest League Champions. Consider for a moment the way the Hops finished last year: from August 8-10, they suffered their only three-game losing streak of the season. The mark of a champion is oftentimes how they respond to stretches like that.

So, how did they respond? Well, over the final 25 games, the Hops went 21-4. Twenty-one up, four down! Entering the season, the longest winning streak in Hops’ history was seven games, and in this twenty-five game stretch, (including playoffs) to close the season, the Hops had two separate eight-game winning streaks.

From August 15-23, Hillsboro ripped off eight straight. They then traded wins and losses for a few days, decided they didn’t like those loss things, then won another eight straight from August 29-September 7, including sweeping four straight playoff games on the way to a Northwest League title. That’s right, not only did we exceed our franchise-record winning-streak twice in less than a month, the streak is also active.

A win in next year’s season opener on the road in Spokane would give the Hops nine straight dating back to 2014, extending our franchise-record winning streak.

Last I looked at a calendar, we’ve reached 2015. We’re having so much fun as Northwest League Champions, I thought I’d take a look at our prospects for hoisting the trophy again this upcoming season.

The Northwest League was founded in 1955, and has seen repeat champions nine different times over that 59-year span:

  • Yakima: 1958-60
  • Yakima: 1963-64
  • Tri-City: 1965-66
  • Lewiston: 1972-73
  • Eugene: 1974-75
  • Spokane: 1987-90
  • Boise: 1993-95
  • Salem-Keizer: 2006-07
  • Vancouver: 2011-13

As you can see from the table, the Northwest League is no stranger to dynastic history. The Hops put an emphatic stop to the most recent dynasty and usurped the NWL throne previously occupied by the Vancouver Canadians with their torrid finish to the season.

Teams repeat very frequently, and given the coaching staff we were just assigned by our parent club, the Arizona Diamondbacks, it would seem very possible for the Hops to be in the mix for the 2015 NWL title.

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